Top 12 Must-Have Foods for Indians to Balance Their Meals

How many of these are you currently eating?
balanced meal

Apart from the basic food groups of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and essential vitamins and minerals, other aspects of health that have gained increasing importance are superb immunity and excellent gut health. We also need foods that have the power to boost our brain cells and relieve stress. Here are 12 must-haves that if incorporated in our daily diet, will help maintain the ideal body balance:

1. Turmeric

It is an ancient herb regularly used in cooking and offers various nutritional benefits and anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Turmeric boosts immunity, detoxifies the liver and purifies the blood. It contains a bioactive compound named curcumin, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps cure colon/prostate cancer, relieves menstrual pain and fatigue.

A pinch of turmeric can be easily added to your foods or even water on a daily basis.  

2. Flax/Chia Seeds

These tiny seeds are loaded with healthy fat, omega-3 fatty acids and are also a great source of protein and fibre. They are rich in ALA, proven to have potent anti-inflammatory properties and known for reducing LDL cholesterol levels, improving cardiovascular health, preventing hair fall, correcting hormonal imbalance and relieving constipation. 

Flax or chia seeds can be incorporated into your diet in the form of chutney with a meal or roasted flaxseeds can also be sprinkled on your salads or juices.

3. Freshly Ground Black Pepper

A pinch of black pepper added to any dish works as more than just a flavour enhancer. Including black pepper in your diet could help promote weight loss, improve digestion, relieve cold and cough and also boost metabolism. It is a rich source of minerals like manganese, copper, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and vitamins like riboflavin, vitamin C, K, and B6 and offers a good dose of dietary fibre as well.

Consumption of pepper increases the hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach, thereby facilitating digestion and preventing the formation of gas. It has an expectorant property that helps break down the mucus and phlegm depositions in the respiratory tract thus providing relief from sinusitis and nasal congestions.

4. Fresh Local Green Leaves

Green leaves like spinach, methi, lettuce, chawli leaves and curry leaves are packed with minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium, and are also a rich source of vitamin A, folate, vitamin K, antioxidants and fibre. Consuming 2-3 servings of these leaves daily could help one replace a multivitamin dose!

Green leafy veggies can be included in the diet in the form of juices, soups, vegetables etc.

5. Green Tea 

Green tea is considered as one of the world's healthiest drinks and contains large amounts of antioxidants. This drink is known to increase the body’s thermogenic effect on fat burning activity. It also contains high amounts of bioactive compounds, polyphenols and flavonoids, which help fight against various types of cancers.

The nutritional benefits of green tea are aplenty. It is rich in minerals like zinc, magnesium, chromium and selenium and is loaded with catechins, of which the most potent antioxidant is Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). This particular antioxidant i.e. EGCG helps minimise the formation of free radicals in the body, thereby protecting cells and molecules from damage and preventing ageing.

2 to 3 cups of green tea daily could help in weight management, promote glowing skin and healthy hair, improve mood, and increase overall body hydration. 

6. Lemon

Known for its rich vitamin C content, lemon also aids in digestion, improves absorption of other nutrients, acts as a detoxifying and cleansing agent and adds flavour to your food.
It is a potent antioxidant and may help fight cancer, stomach ulcers and various other bacterial infections.

You can include lemon in nearly all your meals. Just squeeze its juice over your dish, or have a glass of refreshing lime juice anytime during the day.

7. Garlic

It is the oldest known medicinal plant variety or spice that offers innumerable health benefits and adds immense flavour and aroma to your food. Garlic is rich in allicin compound, and effectively prevents LDL cholesterol from oxidizing thus promoting heart health and improving lipid profile. Also, it helps improve intestinal functioning, aids in digestion, and treats cough and cold.

A clove of garlic can easily be added to any dish for taste and flavour, or garlic paste can be added to vegetables soups. You can also use garlic as an ingredient in your chutneys and dips.

8. Ghee/Cold Pressed Oil

Cold pressed oils are gaining a lot of importance these days, as they retain healthy anti-oxidants that are otherwise destroyed by heat. Thus they help fight against stress and prevent damage caused by free radicals in the body. Cold pressed oils are rich in vitamin E, which is anti-inflammatory in nature and is a great source of oleic acid.

Cold pressed oils easily available in the market are coconut, sesame seed, peanut and olive oil. 

9. Cinnamon

It is a powerful spice rich in antioxidants and contains various phenolic and flavonoids compounds. Cinnamon is a powerful metabolic booster, aids in better digestion and improves blood sugar levels.

Cinnamon powder can be added as a spice when cooking food; it can also be added to cakes, biscuits, soups and so on. 

10. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a major dietary source of antioxidant lycopene, and help protect cardiac health. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium and enhance skin glow while controlling blood pressure.

You can consume tomatoes in the form of soups, raw salads, stuffed tomatoes, vegetable juices etc.

11. Carrots

Carrots are an excellent way to meet your nutritional requirements for vitamin A (beta-carotene) and help improve eyesight. They have excellent antioxidant properties and promote skin glow and healthy hair. An excellent source of dietary fibre, carrots also help cure constipation.

Carrots can be included in your diet in the form of raw salads, soups, or added to any vegetables/grated into a dip.

12. Yoghurt

This nutritious food has been consumed for years and is an effective probiotic that helps improve intestinal flora and improves digestive health, making you feel lighter and fuller.
It is an excellent source of vitamin B12, riboflavin, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and potassium and helps strengthen your immune system. Yoghurt is also a rich source of calcium and protein and helps maintain bone density and strength.

Yoghurts can be incorporated in the diet in various ways – smoothies, lassi, buttermilk, dips, salad dressings etc.

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